How to install a hardwood floor: part 1 (aka prequel)


Me, buffing our new maple/cherry hardwood dining room floor. Working a buffer is akin to riding a bull. (I know, I make it look easy.)

By Elle

Replacing the carpeting in our dining room with a hardwood floor wasn’t something that was on our renovation short list. But one day, in a fit of insanity, we tore out all the carpeting. Not sure what we expected to find beneath, but it was neither beautiful hardwood nor a buried treasure.

You can see the carpeting below in this “before” photo (before, as in when the prior owners lived there).


The prior owners used the space as a family room (as most people would). We use it as a dining room because I love dining in a room with a fireplace!

After we pulled up the carpeting and pad, we inspected the particle-board underlayment (the layer right beneath).  We removed all of them, which gave us a chance to inspect the sub-floor (the layer beneath the underlayment and right above the joists).   We replaced a few pieces of the plywood sub-floor, and then replaced the entire underlayment with plywood that we bought on Craigslist.

Why plywood? Because you can’t nail hardwood into particle board. You can install a floating floor over particle board, but not a hardwood floor. Therefore, we had to take the extra step of tearing out the entire underlayment and replacing it with plywood.

While removing an underlayment sounds easy, it’s not. At least in our case, the particle boards were glued into the sub-floor, so it took a good amount of wrestling with a crowbar to undo them.

You also have to sand the sub-floor (unless you’re completely replacing it) to remove all the old glue before you can install the new underlayment. If you do sand, I highly recommend hanging tarps in the doorways and setting up fans to blow out as much of the dust as possible.

(I’ve been thinking lately about naming our homestead. “Money Pit” is overused; “Dusty Half-Acre” is the leading contender.)

Tip: If you’re going to redo a floor, be sure to label all the trim pieces after you remove them so you know where they belong.


It was handy having a gaping hole in the dining room because it gave us easy access to the junk we store in the crawlspace right below.


Once the sub-floor is replaced/sanded, we glued and screwed down the new underlayment. Getting the boards down nice and tight helps prevent squeaks in the floor once the hardwood boards are installed.

There are different methods for attaching underlayment and sub-floor to each other and to the joists. Our house is nearly a half-century old, and we don’t expect much movement in the boards. Therefore, we not only glued the underlayment and sub-floor together, but we also screwed them both, as one layer, into the joists.


Use a decent amount of wood glue to affix the underlayment layer to the sub-floor.



My beloved is a perfectionist, so he added a few (thousand) nails in addition to the screws and the glue.

Tip: If you’re replacing a floor, you need to be mindful of its height, particularly if there are adjoining rooms. The goal is a seamless transition between rooms.

Our other pre-work involved busting out the fireplace hearth. We have too many little ones running around these days, and I viewed the hearth as an accident waiting to happen. (I once performed a remarkable feat of reflex, preventing one of our little ones from bashing her head into the hearth, but I can’t be counted on to do that repeatedly.) So we spent one Friday night drinking wine and chipping away at our hearth. True Love.



Don’t even think this photo’s staged; I did my share of the work. And it was at this point that I needed a break from hauling all the bricks to the outside and tossing them beneath our deck.



Ta-da! Believe it or not, this looks great.


It wasn’t long before the fireplace turned into our work bench. Today, even though the floor is done,  half of that stuff is still in the fireplace. I’m not embarrassed; I’m exhausted.

Speaking of the fireplace, we decided to lime it to soften the red-brick look. We bought lime wash from Earth Pigments. The wash is easy to use, but be sure to follow all the precautions because lime is caustic.


In the end, we determined that we don’t love the lime wash (well, we do, but we don’t love the way it looks in our dining room), so we hit upon another idea. We’re going to cover the entire fireplace in copper.  My beloved found two large sheets of copper on Craigslist (I call him the Craigslist Hunter), which we’ll use for the fireplace. But first we have to hammer it, which should take, oh, about all winter or the rest of our lives.


This photo shows the lime wash after one coat. I’ve since added two more coats, but we still don’t love it.

img_1769In the next installment, I’ll tell you how we chose our wood and the design, and I’ll explain the steps for installing an unfinished hardwood floor. I’ll also share our thinking about why we chose unfinished hardwood and our thinking (more like head scratching) about choosing a stain.

Thanks for reading, and if you like this post, please share it on Facebook. Maybe your friends will like it, too!

5 thoughts on “How to install a hardwood floor: part 1 (aka prequel)

  1. Pingback: Fireplace reno project nears a close | Abby & Elle Upstairs Fashion & Design

  2. Pingback: How to install a hardwood floor: part 3 (aka the Big Finish!) | Abby & Elle Upstairs Fashion & Design

  3. Pingback: How to install a hardwood floor: part 2 (aka the fun part) | Abby & Elle Upstairs Fashion & Design

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